Last night, while you were sleeping and/or doing something the complete opposite of sleeping, the NHL locked out its players at 12:01am. The current (previous) agreement expired with no new agreement anywhere in sight. Commissioner Gary Bettman made good on his promise that negotiations would not continue during the season while games are being played.
What we have feared since the turn of the calendar has come to fruition. Actually, a lot of us have feared this day since they resumed playing after the 2004-05 season was lost. The distance between the league and the union is so vast, they didn’t even resume talks on Saturday in hopes of reaching an agreement.
The players took a hit with the new agreement in July 2005. The adoption of a salary cap and an immediate rollback of 24 percent of the existing contracts already signed, for the ability to earn 57 percent of the revenue. That’s the highest percentage for a split figure one could hope to gain against league owners. MLB, NFL, and the NBA are significantly closer to the 50-50 margin when it comes to revenue sharing. Clearly, the owners now want to shift. In hopes of returning to the more traditional (read: sane) split of 49-51, for example, the owners’ original offer was 43 percent.
At the time, many of us thought this offer was a sure-fire way to get everyone nowhere. The NHLPA, like everyone else, smacked each other to see if this was a bad dream, then laughed, then sneezed at the leagues offer before handing it back saying, “Not good enough”.
In actuality, what they did was take their time in creating a counter proposal. The players’ key issues were the attempts to corral the size of contracts and limit the length. Also of note was the hope to keep players on an Entry Level contract for the first five years in the league. It’s understandable that players would take umbrage with this. Seeing as hockey is a contact sport where any shift could be the last you play in the NHL, players want to ensure they are being paid what they deserve.
Yes, millions of dollars to play a game is at times, ridiculous to fathom to you and I. Even hundreds of thousands. However, it’s no fault of the professionals. The NHL is a business. As employees with skills, they have every right to be compensated for putting them on display. If you work at Wal-Mart and are the greatest cashier on the face of earth, you’ll get a raise. Maybe even a promotion. In sports, there is no promotion. It’s a contract by contract system where you’re only paid based on what you’ve done. Basically, you have to earn the right to be paid.
By hoping to keep players at Entry Level, the owners are looking to limit the amount on contracts spread out among the team. It’s kind of a sneaky way to save some greenbacks.
If you look closely, there is some silver linings to this thunderstorm of garbage. The regular season isn’t set to begin until October 11th. Training Camps and exhibition games are likely lost due to this latest grasp of economic money-grubbin’. Silver lining? The NHLPA and league are nowhere near as separated as they were in 2004-05. Remember the vast amount of changes to the game that took place once the roughly 320 days of no hockey were over? Smaller rinks, trapezoids, salary caps, no two-line pass…etc. I’m probably forgetting things too. The game was remade to be faster and more focused on skill.
It was successful. Maybe people in positions of power weren’t happy about what had been agreed to, but they couldn’t argue with results. And money. The fans returned. New markets that had been doormats, once again began to see profits and wins.
I don’t anticipate a massive number of fans to disappear. People say a lot of things when they’re feelings are hurt. But, in the end if you love this game, you support it. Part of me thinks that has something to do with the fact that hockey isn’t as big as baseball or football. Baseball saw attendance drop after the strike in ’94. But think of the sheer size of that league. Not to mention the stadiums. It isn’t as if teams are guaranteed attendance when things are good. Or even really good. Sometimes, people just don’t buy tickets.
But there’s something about hockey that’s different. It’s like being a part of a club. If you’re a fan, most likely you’re passionate, nearing rabid. And now that TV is really becoming a new frontier for prominently displaying the game, people aren’t going to ignore it. Let alone not watch it for free.
The league is in jeopardy of losing the Winter Classic and the All Star Game in Columbus. The Blue Jackets franchise is clearly in shambles; a town that seemingly doesn’t get interested in a team that doesn’t win much. The Classic brings in massive money from tickets, TV deals, and merchandise. They’re not willing to give it up. The issue: How do you split $3.3B? The players want a guaranteed $1.8B of revenue paid out, but the owners would like to see that number get smaller. To me, it’s a good problem to have. I just don’t want the decision to take too long.
The NHL released this statement to the fans at 9 A.M. Sunday September 16th
The NHLPA released this video in response to the lockout
In wake of the lockout, a list of stars signing elsewhere:
Ottawa Kaspar Daugavins – Dinamo Riga KHL
Ottawa Sergei Gonchar – Mettalurg KHL
Philadelphia Pavel Kubina – HC Vitkovice Steel Czech Extraliga
Philadelphia Ruslan Fedotenko – HC Donbass KHL
New Jersey Iliya Kovalchuck – HC SKA KHL
Winnipeg Alexi Ponikarovsky – HC Donbass KHL
Montreal Tomas Plekanec – HC Kladno Czech Extraliga
Dallas Jaromir Jagr – HC Kladno Czech Extraliga
Detroit Pavel Datsyuk – HC AKBars KHL
Pittsburgh Evgeni Malkin – Mettalurg KHL
Follow on twitter @midway_brennan